Samstag, 16. Juni 2012


Im Blog des griechischen Nationalökonomen Yanis Varoufakis bin ich aktuell in eine Debatte mit einem gewissen Pantelis Vassilakis verwickelt. Zum besseren Verständnis meiner nachfolgenden Argumente empfiehlt es sich, seinen Eintrag (hier konkret den von "June 15, 2012 at 00:34") zu lesen.
Bei meiner Erwiderung, die ich für nicht schlecht halte und deshalb nachfolgend präsentiere, geht es letztlich um das Verständnis der Bürger (aber auch der Wirtschaftswissenschaften selbst!) für wirtschaftliche Vorgänge, um die "ökonomische Alphabetisierung" (oder ökonomischen Analphabetismus!), engl. "economic literacy".
Hier also mein Text:

Much as I disagree with you, Pantelis Vassilakis, your contributions are stimulating me to be more precise about my thinking.
And if, before or in the following text, I may sound somewhat aggressive, it's not supposed to be offensive to you, but a challenge to reconsider your (plural: you and any reader of the text) preconceived opinions.

Folks are geared to "know" everything. Rather than admit we (in general discourse and, it seems to me, even in the "science" of economics - but not normally in the natural sciences) don't know this or that, we concoct an "explanation".

The plague in the Middle Ages was "explained" by human sin ( This is (to us today) obviously nonsense. It makes you feel like you "know" the cause, but doesn't give you the slightest help in fighting the plague.

 The malaria disease was formerly assumed to come from "mal aria" (ital. for "bad air") ( The idea of "bad air" was connected with swamps and insofar was derived from the correct observation that this disease is more common in swamp-areas than elsewhere.
It did have some value because, while not establishing a direct causal chain of events, it was still true the you could, by and large, avoid the disease by avoiding (or draining) the swamps.

And it was a starting point for later finding out that mosquito-bites were the "cause" of this disease. But even this "explanation" is unsatisfactory. While it is certainly true, it is incomplete. It helps you in that it shows you a way of fighting the disease when you have not drained the swamps: you simply kill the mosquitoes (DDT).

But when the mosquito that bites you has come from a puddle, than this "explanation" will be insufficient to cure you. You may find a drug, by accidence, that helps (like so many primitive tribes have found for so many diseases). But in general a "solution" will require a scientific analysis that (hopefully) will lead you to the fact that it is not the mosquito as such, but a microorganism on (or in - I'm not familiar with and not interested in these details) the mosquito that does the harm. But even that is not an "explanation" that enables you to cure the disease: You need to know exactly what this microorganism does to your body, in order to develop an antidote.

You are giving a "bad air"-type explanation for the current economic problems: capitalism is a swamp for you, which we simply need to drain, and everything is fine.

Know would you personally want to trade your life with that of a king 200 years ago? Would you personally prefer to live in North Korea, or even Cuba, instead of the "capitalist" USA?
And what, do you think, would you (or I) be there? You think that system does have enough surplus resources to support people working  at a university, writing papers about music? Nothing negative implied about what you are doing, but you should be aware (just as I as an old age pensioner am) that we are consuming what other people produce. Nobody needs your knowledge (or mine) to construct a Volkswagen. But you (and, hypothetically, I) would like to have a Volkswagen.

Unless you have an extended basis of productivity, we both would be working in the coal mines (North Korea) or the sugar cane plantations (cuba).

If the "swamp" turns out the Nile-river-farm irrigation system in Egypt, you're simply dead, if you drain these mosquito-hotbeds.

What you describe is not "capitalism" as such, only certain aspects of it.
And what is wrong with you now accumulating stock, and selling it in your old age to live from the money?
What is wrong with a "speculator" buying next year's grain in winter at a fixed price? The farmer gets the money he needs to pay his helpers (or fuel for his harvesting machine) and the "speculator" makes a profit - or takes a loss, if prices in summer turn out to be lower. This is (besides giving him cash rightawy) an insurance for the farmer that he will sell at a certain price. In that respect, he might also pay a fee to the "speculator", who would then have to pay the farmer the difference, if prices in summer were lower than contracted.

So a lot of things that you decry as evil are (or can be) very meaningful economic institutions. Before you know in detail how the mechanism works (what the microorganism does to your body), it is not very wise to cut off your arm when you've gotten bit by a mosquito. It may not even have had/transmitted the disease to you, or the "poison" may already have gone beyond your arm.

Capitalism is about efficiency:
- in production, that you produce as much as possible with as little work as possible (surplus workers should then ideally work in another factory that needs them)
- but also in distribution. An even distribution is not necessarily a good distribution; if everybody consumes their money, nobody has a surplus to invest it. So (at least historically) an uneven distribution was justified, in that it gave some people the spare money to invest in firms, machines, railroads etc.
Something may have gone wrong, these days, in distribution. But I would still prefer the exact mechanism to be identified, before trying to straighten things out. If you don't (and implement, e. g., Marxism), you have a good chance of ending up worse, even a lot worse, than now.

Marxism has been shown to be flawed in several historical experiments.
And it is not that the implementation went wrong: Marxism can be shown to be flawed already on theoretical grounds. Basically, Marxism rests on the assumption that there is a way to objectively determine what we "need".  Do I "need" your papers to feed my face? Obviously not. On the other hand, since (like Demetri once correctly stated) "everything is connected with everything", they might still, in whatever hidden and circuitous ways, contribute to the progress of mankind. But there is no way of determining such a result in advance. In fact, they might just as well not be helpful. But since nobody can know that in advance, we just have to try it out. And for that, you have to live in an "affluent" society, where people produce enough so that they can share their material production with you.

Also, this affluence in no way is dependent on other people or peoples to be poor. Yes, people do starve in Bangladesh. But this was no different in the past: when the crops where poor, when they got destroyed by torrential rainfalls etc., people had to starve, because in the olden days you could not store the grain etc. very long.
Only these days, an efficient government could store enough food for the people to survive inspite of poor crops, or buy the grain from the USA.
Plus nowadays there are a lot more folks living in Bangladesh than formerly. While the Chinese have strictly limited their population, other peoples are "eating up" the increasing productivity by an increased population. That's not the fault of capitalism - as (semi-)"capitalist" China teaches us.

And also religion doesn't necessarily help. The (formerly much larger) Vatican State in Central Italy was religious, and institutions like the monasteries would feed the poor. But that also stifled their incentive to work. It reduced many people (and their attitude) the the state of spoiled brats, that expect everything from the parents, and nothing from their own work.
I'm not say religion and ethics are bad. They are good, when and insofar as they help you to establish well-working institutions, and the "lets-go-do-it" attitude in people. They can also be bad, when they foster a more fatalist attitude, where you expect your bread to fall from heaven, instead of making it with your own hands.

ceterum censeo
Zerschlagt die UdESFR, die Union der Europäischen Sozialistischen Falschgeldrepubliken!
Textstand vom 16.06.2023

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